By Bob Allen
An American Baptist leader has joined an initiative to get presidential candidates talking about mental health.
Curtis Ramsey-Lucas, director of interfaith engagement at the American Association of People with Disabilities, joined leaders of two other advocacy groups in a Jan. 22 press release announcing support for a campaign by an Illinois woman who lives with a psychiatric disability alarmed by silence on mental health policies during a recent Democratic debate.
AJ French, a mental health speaker and trainer in Alton, Ill., wrote candidates and followed up with phone calls to their campaigns asking eight questions important to her and the recovery community.
While watching the Democratic debate, French was angered that the candidates were not talking about mental health, until she realized they weren’t being asked to speak on the topic. At one point, French said in commentary for her local newspaper, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, spoke about “voting rights, women’s rights, gay rights, civil rights, workers’ rights” with no recognition of disability rights.
French said silence is just as noticeable on the Republican side. At a rally in New Hampshire, GOP candidate Donald Trump responded to a woman with a disability by expressing sympathy for her circumstances and saying he would have someone follow up with her after the rally but said nothing about what his mental health policy would be as president.
Wondering about the mental health policies of the next president, French wrote each candidate asking eight questions, ranging from how many people who openly disclose having a disability are employed on their campaign staff to a recent proposal by President Obama to access the Social Security database presuming individuals with disabilities are too dangerous to purchase a firearm.
“The American Association of People with Disabilities supports efforts to reduce stigma associated with mental health conditions and improve community-based mental health services,” said Ramsey-Lucas, who also works as managing director of resource development at American Baptist Home Mission Societies. “We invite the presidential candidates to join us in this effort and encourage them to take this opportunity to clarify their positions and priorities with respect to mental health policy.”
French, once told she would never work again due to her disability but refused to believe it and persevered to successfully move from disability income to earned income, said the candidates’ silence on mental health issues speaks volumes to persons who live segregated as the unpopular minority.
“It’s not enough to believe life is precious and that we are all equal under God’s eye,” she wrote in a Jan. 20 op-ed in the Alton Telegraph. “We must be taken seriously and our voice must be heard in equal proportion to other stakeholder populations.”
“The tragic suicides of Matthew Warren (April 2013) and Robin Williams (August 2014) significantly elevated the national mental health discussion,” French said. “Yet their lives — and my life — is in vain if this conversation is squelched. It’s time for presidential candidates to integrate mental health into their campaign and executive decisions.”